Encouraging the development of a workforce, which is inclusive and diverse was the key message from the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) during a recent webinar held in association with the SAICE Young Members Panel (YMP).
Innocentia Mahlangu Pr.Eng, SAICE Champion of Diversity and Inclusivity and Project Manager at Hatch, started the event by presenting on SAICE’s diversity and inclusivity (D&I) initiatives, which form a vital part of their strategy. “We need to drive change in our industry and establish a working environment which is inviting to everyone. It has been said that diversity is being invited to the party and inclusivity is being asked to dance. We need to build a civil engineering industry which is inclusive regardless of race, gender, religion, culture or disability.”
Chair of the SAICE YMP, Michael Mhlanga added: “Young professionals have a massive role to play as future leaders and advocates for change. We need to move D&I from theory to practice.” He said this can be achieved by engagements with young people at school and university level. “The YMP is proud to be running various initiatives of this sort, where our young engineers and connecting with our youth. These students are receptive to us, as they see that we are like them – young, with exciting careers ahead of us.”
Malani Padayachee-Saman Pr.Eng, CEO of MPAMOT, said that from the gender perspective of D&I, it is important to not just focus on women in the industry. “We need to focus on wider gender mainstreaming, where we are not just focussing on including women in technical fields, but encouraging general ‘role reversal’ in the workplace and in the home. The role of men must also be considered,” she said. She also unpacked the role of ethnicity and religion in the workplace.
The programme manager for the event was Tsebo Koena, Civil Technician for Zutari. In conversation with Kim Timm Pr.Eng, Executive Structural Engineer at AECOM, he asked her what it takes for young people to get ahead in the industry. “From a women’s perspective, there is immense pressure to be ‘strong’ all the time. You get put in a situation where you are loaded with more responsibilities and expected to succeed – and I don’t think that’s always fair. We should rather be looking at knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, develop confidence, and then building competencies. Then you become much harder to be overlooked,” answered Timm.
Mahlangu added that diversity and inclusivity is a journey. “Undoing so much historic imbalance is a massive task. SAICE wants to encourage equality and fairness – and raise awareness of unconscious bias. People are so unaware of the perceptions they hold, and how this impacts their actions.” Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form without being aware of it. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases often inhibit inclusive behaviour.
Koena concluded by saying that it is important to recognise that civil engineering professionals play an important role in society. “We are building a world for people and collaborating with each other. As civil engineering professionals, we are building society and it is important to be inclusive as we move forward.”